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Wilpattu National Park | A Tall Order

It has it all, turtles walking across busy roads, Land Monitors lizards sloping around looking like they are up to no good, elephants en masse, casual leopards posing for pictures and shy sloth bears jumping out of bushes.

For an island around the same size as Britain, Sri Lanka certainly packs a lot in. The first park I visited on my trip was Wilpattu in north Sri Lanka, it recently opened its doors again to the world and thankfully for me tourism has yet to take hold.

We entered the park through an enchanted wood, trees bent around one another, twisted and turned forming a frame around the road ahead, an unusual and mysterious way to enter a national park. As the drive went on we drove through fjords, around stunning lakes that were full of mugger crocs and spotted several of the national bird – Jungle Foul, which always scurries around busily in and out of bushes, never staying long enough to get photographed.

Before coming out to Sri Lanka I was asked what animal I would like to see and never in my wildest dreams did I actually think that I would see it. I have been to many safaris in India and always wished I would see a real life Balou. Sightings are few and far between and when they happen it is usually too quick to photograph but today was my lucky day.

At first I could only see his back side, it looked a bit like a boulder but once he turned and looked through the bushes at me I could see his whitish long nose. He stared at us for a few minutes, then looked away and tried to hide behind a bush. I find it amazing how a big black fluffy bear can be so well camouflaged in the dry bush of a Sri Lankan park, everything else seems so well suited to its environment apart from the sloth bear. I am fascinated to know why they are only native to Sri Lanka and India when they both have such hot climates. Of course they are nocturnal animals, only venturing out in the cool of the night or very early in the morning which is why I was lucky enough to spot one, just as the sun was coming up.

The fluffy mass of bear that I saw was shy and inquisitive, he didn’t look like he would hurt a fly but appearances are obviously deceptive. Along with buffalo, sloth bears are the most dangerous animals in the park, they have claws long enough to scratch through termite mounds (built as hard as rock) and if they are confronted by an enemy or human they are renowned for scratching and clawing to death.

Eventually he found the confidence to dart cross the path we were on, his black mass of fluff and white nose now clearly defined against the burnt red path, it couldn’t have been a better sighting for me, the best thing about it was that it was just our jeep full of lovely people from Leopard Safaris, the bear and possibly a sly old leopard watching from afar to share the experience with – perfection!